The more I read and study Al-Ghazali (may God have mercy on him), the more I realise his work is relevant for us in the 21st Century. His focus was the human heart. He realised that all of our actions were ultimately a derivative of our spiritual state.
Deeply studying the Quran and Prophetic traditions, Al-Ghazali understood that the human heart was the locus of felicity. If it was pure and sound, we would attain success. If it was corrupted and hardened, we would face self-inflicted degradation. From his work we understand that our hearts – in their constant wavering – must be softened with the remembrance of God and kept in check by traversing the path of annihilating the ego.
Al-Ghazali’s work is so relevant for us in our era. We live in a time that celebrates the ego. Don’t misunderstand me here, I’m not referring to other communities – as many like to point the finger and externalise blame. I’m referring to the Muslim community. Just reflect on social media. Everyone wants to be right, no one wants to be wrong; everyone wants to look good, no one wants to look bad; everyone wants to impose, no one wants to be imposed upon. These are the elements of the ego.
Reflect on the Quranic character of shaytaan (interestingly the root of this word means to be away; in essence, removed from God’s mercy and guidance). He disobeyed God and did not bow to Adam. He thought he was better than Adam. He implied God was wrong. He wanted to look good and he did not want to be imposed upon. He refused to obey the ultimate authority: God. From this point of view, shaytaan is our teacher. He teaches us what not to be. He is the ultimate manifestation of a grotesque ego.
Recently, I’ve noticed these elements of the ego in myself, and unfortunately in others. When the general public have come to hear unsubstantiated claims about someone’s sin or mistake, many of their reactions have been nothing short of shaytaanic. Condemnations, hatred, ridicule, self-righteousness, mockery, haughtiness, arrogance and judgements abounded. How many of us had the initial reaction of sadness and concern for the one who may have fallen prey to their lowly desires? How many of us actually supplicated to our Lord to forgive them, elevate them, and shower them with His boundless mercy? How many of us adopted the Islamic ethic of rejecting and disbelieving all unproven accusations? We have been so quick to attack and condemn. We reduced and defined the person by their alleged mistake, not by their consistent goodness.
In reality we saw our selves in the sinner. We didn’t like what we saw. So we turned into devils.
We failed this spiritual test. We sought to destroy the one who erred and in doing so built ourselves a larger ego. This spectacle of egoism says more about ourselves than anything else. We salivated like a pack of hungry hyenas, devouring a rotten carcass. However, while masticating on the flesh and bones, we realised that we were eating our own selves. This self-cannibalism exposed us. It brought out the worse in us.
We must reflect on our inner selves. What motivated these reactions? Why were our responses so dark? Why have we forgotten that we are reflections of each other? Why have we forgotten our sublime ethics?
“The believer is a mirror of another believer.” The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)
We have become blinded to the fact that the reflection in the mirror is our own selves. Someone’s sadness is your sadness. Their happiness is your happiness. Their sin is your sin. When we see a blemish in the mirror do we wipe the mirror, or ourselves?
Let’s not forget that a grotesque ego is worse than the sins of the limbs. So what this must teach us is – using the words of Al-Ghazali – that if we aspire to the achieve the state of a tranquil soul, “do not occupy yourself with admonishing others if you have not first admonished yourself.”
May God purify our hearts.
If only we knew.
“The Day [of resurrection] when there will not benefit [anyone] wealth or children. But only one who comes to God with a sound heart.” The Qur’an, Chapter 26, Verses 88 to 89
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—� Br Hamza Tz.
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